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News : Irish Last Updated: Jun 30, 2009 - 8:30:21 AM


Innovation Ireland: Science Foundation claims 8 spinout companies from university research; Enterprise Ireland claims over 100
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Jun 28, 2009 - 12:07:34 PM

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Forfás, the State policy advisory agency says the central goal of the Government’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation is to ensure that Ireland becomes a competitive knowledge-based economy by 2013. It says continuous and increased investment each year in all areas of science and technology (S&T) should assist Ireland in reaching that goal. The estimated S&T expenditure figures for 2008 show an expected spend of €2.65 billion which represents a 10% increase in public funding over the 2007 outturn figures.

It is nonsense to expect Ireland to be a "competitive knowledge-based economy by 2013." Even if a credible broadband system is operational at last, we will not be comparable with countries like Denmark and Finland in a few years by spending money and a State agency should resist underpinning the delusions of politicians.

The Higher Education Authority's research programme is "designed to enhance the research capabilities, capacity and infrastructure of Ireland's higher education institutions."

The chart is from the The Irish Science Budget 2007 / 2008 : Government departments and agencies funding R&D activities, (2008).

Innovation Ireland: The State agency Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), was established in 2000 to support "globally competitive scientific research." It invests in academic-led scientific research in the strategic areas of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Biotechnology and more recently, Sustainable Energy and Energy-Efficient Technologies and claims 8 spinout companies from its funded research, since 2002. State agency Enterprise Ireland (EI), which is responsible for support of indigenous firms and has the overall remit for assisting the commercialisation of publicly funded research, says in the last three years, 25 spinout companies have emerged from publicly-funded research in Ireland. However, this number jumps to over 100 in the 3-5 year period.

The national technology transfer system, comprises Enterprise Ireland and ten technology transfer offices in third level colleges. Researchers in third level colleges receive funding from a number of State agencies which include Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland.

In the period, 2009-2013, SFI expects to have 30 spinouts while EI is forecasting 26 in 2009.

So with SFI responsible for funding research in the key commercial areas of ICT, Biotechnology and Green Energy, why are the spinouts achieved just a fraction of the total claimed by EI?

Besides the 8 SFI spinouts, what categories of third level research spawned the 92+ firms claimed by EI?

After a week of trying for an answer, it's not clear  - - see last response at bottom of page.

Besides SFI, the following bodies are also funding third-level research:

  • The Higher Education Authority

  • The Health Research Board

  • Teagasc - the State agriculture research agency

  • Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences

  • Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology

As for spinout data, from a sample of 7 spinouts provided to Finfacts, 6 companies were formed since 2003; 3 have no more than 5 people employed and none employ more than 26.

The seventh company ChangingWorlds, was founded in 1999 and employs 99 people.

At a time of financial crisis, the €8.2 billion science budget in the current National Development Plan, is protected from cuts. Public data on the outcomes from the spending is inadequate and the primacy given to marketing spoof over credible policy, by politicians continues, with the senior management at State agencies providing a supporting role, at least in public.

For example, the IMF's devastating report this week on recent Irish economic policy, has data on the performance of foreign direct investment, that is  a contrast to IDA Ireland's chief executive Barry O'Leary's rosy statements on the "continued evolutionary growth in our knowledge economy" and the success of what he terms the "Economic Ecosystem";  the report on the Irish economy for the international market produced by the National Treasury Management Agency and presumably endorsed by chief executive Dr. Michael Somers, says: "Ireland has a record of prudent fiscal policy." Obviously, one has to make the best of the hand that's dealt but not at the expense of making a fool of yourself. Forfás is another State agency, which dare not tell the little emperors that they have no clothes!

Scepticism is also required in relation to Enterprise Ireland and following Taoiseach Brian Cowen's announcement in the US last March of €100 million in "new" export orders won during a 2-day trade mission, EI informed Finfacts, the claimed orders dated back six months.

The late Arab-American diplomat Philip Habib, disputed the old canard that a diplomat is a man who's sent abroad to lie for his country. In his opinion, the most fundamental requirement of successful diplomacy is honesty - - a point that should be kept in mind.

Serious questions, have been raised on the policy of relying on university research to provide new sources of growth for the Irish economy. Irish Software Association (ISA) chairman Seán Baker, recently told a meeting of researchers and software executives, that research needs to involve commercial input from a much earlier point in the process. He also warned academic researchers that overvaluing intellectual property inhibited commercialisation.

The questions raised have been ignored by ministers, while there is so much public money currently available for research, the beneficiaries keep silent, or have no doubts, and await a eureka moment.

Meanwhile, everyone with a stake in the system, sing the "smart economy" mantra with jargon chants of "eco systems," "cutting edge," "state of the art," "world class knowledge economy,"  and so on. Don't spoil the message by mentioning broadband!

Recently Minister of State for Innovation Conor Lenihan bragged that "more than 100 high value companies" have emerged from third level institutions in the last three to five years: "This rate of company creation per €100 million of research expenditure is comparable with world renowned academic heavyweights such as MIT, Imperial College London, Cambridge and Oxford  Universities. It is proof of practice that public and private investment in research and development is paying dividends."

Maybe or maybe not!

It's more likely proof of nothing.

As can be seen below, the claimed survival rate doesn't stack up and EI says application of metrics to the transfer of technology is still a relatively new activity. A spinout with 2 employees is as relevant as one with 200.

Where is the credible comparative patent filing data  -- comparing like for like where feasible?

In 2006, Finfacts reported on a US study, which showed that the then reliance on publicly available modes for measuring the commercialisation of university innovation - - patents and small business innovation research grants, along with figures provided by university technology transfer offices -- was failing to capture the true number of business start-ups in which scientists were engaged.

The study also claimed that while location of the university to a technology corridor such as Boston's Route 128 or Silicon Valley contributes to the propensity of scientist entrepreneurship, the researchers found that having a good social network can more than compensate for not being located in a "hot spot." Such social networks with other scientists or business executives often involve co-publishing of articles, co-patenting with other scientists, or being on the board of a company.

EI says 10% of the companies which emerged from publicly funded research institutes over the last 10 years have ceased trading, therefore there is a present date survival rate of 90%.

This figure is way out of line with US data.

Harvard Business School researchers say in a recent paper, that successful experience, or performance persistence, pays off but they were surprised at just how much it does help. Successful entrepreneurs in their study had a 34% chance of succeeding in their next venture-backed firm, compared with 23% for those who previously failed and 22% for first-timers.

Entrepreneur Judd Hollas, who is CEO of US software firm EquityNet, says in a comment on a Wall Street Journal blog, that he has  personally reviewed hundreds of studies and empirical information on business failure: "I have also personally invested in dozens of emerging technology enterprises. I would like to offer the following perspectives based on my accumulated knowledge.

In the “wild west” of entrepreneurship, standards and good statistical information are lacking. It is a common myth that only 1 out of 10 businesses succeed. In fact, according to research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 45% of new firms survive their first 4 years. Given that, entrepreneurs consider inaccurate information when deciding to start up a company and potentially change their life."

According to a paper published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2005, data showed that, across US business sectors, 66% of new establishments were still in existence 2 years after their birth, and 44% were still in existence 4 years after. The paper said these survival rates do not vary much by industry. Despite the early success of the “dot-coms” during the 1990s, the information industry had the lowest 2- and 4-year survival rates, 63% and 38%, respectively.

In a second paper in 2006, the authors extended the previous survival research done by Amy Knaup in the above referred to paper, examining survival rates of a cohort of establishments for a four year period. In this study, the same cohort as was used in 2005, was extended and showed that 31% of firms survive at least seven years.

Analyzing this survival study by sector, shows that (similar to the previous study) the information sector had the lowest 2- and 4-year survival rates, 63% and 38% respectively; and this trend continued with the information sector having the lowest 6-year survival rates at 28% and the lowest 7-year survival rate at 25%.

Irish Economy: Achieving economic success requires more than investing in creativity

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Ireland’s universities TCD and UCD in research alliance aim to create new Nokia; Genesis of old Nokia or Ryanair wasn't in a lab

Asian software parks attract foreign investment but do not foster innovation says report; Despite efforts to promote R&D, Ireland deals mainly in mature technology that others have developed elsewhere

German research shows cultural diversity generates knowledge-based start-ups

Finfacts initially asked EI 10 questions:

1) What is the source of the data on the start-ups of "100 high value companies have emerged from third level institutions in the last three to five years."

The source of the data on start-up companies emerging from the Government’s investment in Research and Development in the third-level sector is primarily based on Enterprise Ireland’s Annual Business Review (ABR).  The ABR is a questionnaire-based survey of Enterprise Ireland trading clients, conducted in conjunction with Forfás.  The purpose of the ABR survey is to collect accurate data on client performance to measure outturn data against a number of key targets such as export gains.

The Technology Transfer Offices based in Universities and Institutes of Technology, also contributed information on recent spinout activity from publicly funded research.  More than 100 high-value companies have emerged from higher education institutions. The majority of these companies were established in the last 3-5 years.

2) What is the source of the comparative international data and is Ireland included in a relevant study or who in EI has verified that the comparisons are valid?

The application of metrics to the transfer of technology is still a relatively new activity, consequently there are very few national or internationally comparable indicators within Europe for evaluating the success of policies to promote the commercialisation of public science.  

While the international exercise to develop comparable indicators continues, the only current valid method of comparison is to compare the yield of spinout creation with internationally reputable academic institutions. This is done by comparing the number of spinouts generated per €100m of research expenditure. 

In the last three years, 25 spinout companies have emerged from publicly-funded research in Ireland from a total spend of €1,977m in the Higher Education sector, giving a yield of 1.26 spinouts per €100m.  In 2009, the target for the national technology transfer system is 26 spinout companies from expected research expenditure of over €700m {source: trend in HERD expenditure, 1996 -2008 (current prices millions euro)}. This equates to a yield of over 3 spinouts per €100m.   This is comparable to spinout activity in some of the world’s leading academic institutes: 

  • Cambridge: 2 spinouts per €320m research income (Source: UK HESA HE BCI Survey 2007 & 2005 Unico Metrics Report) equates to a yield of 0.6 spinouts per €100m
  • Oxford: 7 spinouts per €263m research income (Source: UK HESA HE BCI Survey 2007 & 2005 Unico Metrics Report) equates to a yield of 2.2 spinouts per €100m
  • Imperial College London: €294m research income (Source: UK HESA HE BCI Survey 2007 & 2005 Unico Metrics Report ) equates to a yield of 3.7 spinouts per €100m
  • MIT: 20 spinouts per €896m research income (MIT Reports to the President 2007–2008 & MIT TLO Statistics for Fiscal Year 2008) equates to a yield of 2.2 per €100m

3) Re the claim the companies generated a combined turnover of over €160 million, of which, €137 million were exports - -  what is the net value-added figure (what is the imports content)?

The source of the turnover and export data is from Enterprise Ireland’s Annual Business Review (ABR). As the ABR is a questionnaire-based survey of Enterprise Ireland trading clients, pre-defined metrics such as turnover and export figures are generated, though further interrogation of the system beyond these types of indicators (to include imports etc.) is not possible.

4) What is the survival rate of EI supported University companies?

10% of the companies which emerged from publicly funded research institutes over the last 10 years have ceased trading, therefore there is a present date survival rate of 90%

How does that compare with international data?

No data available. 

5) What was the number of start-ups claimed by SFI for the same time-frame and are all SFI companies included in the EI total?

The Irish research and subsequent commercialisation system has been established in such a way that it follows that Enterprise Ireland should always have some connection to the spinouts being created by SFI researchers. 

In the publication Powering the Smart Economy 2009-2013, Science Foundation Ireland stated the following;

Over the next five years, SFI will continue to contribute to the efforts of Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, with the following target:  

  • 40 revenue-generating licenses and 30 high-potential start-ups from its research groups;  

SFI’s target clearly indicates that they are contributing to the efforts of Enterprise Ireland to create spinout companies from research. SFI’s five-year target of 30 high-potential start-ups are to emerge from SFI funded research groups, which contribute to achieving the overall targets of the national technology transfer system. All the State agencies involved in supporting third-level research and R&D in companies, as well as the Technology Transfer Offices in third level institutions, make up the national technology transfer system.   

Eight spinout companies have emerged from SFI Research Groups since 2002 and SFI funded researched are collaborating with a further 19 spinout companies on research and development projects.

How does the 100+ total compare with SFI's data for the same period and why is it different if so?

The missions of SFI & Enterprise Ireland are different.

Science Foundation Ireland was established to invest in academic led scientific research in the strategic areas of Information and Communications Technology, Biotechnology and more recently, Sustainable Energy and Energy-Efficient Technologies. 

Enterprise Ireland (EI) is responsible for the development and promotion of the indigenous business sector. The aim of EI in this context is to facilitate collaborative links between enterprise and the research community that lead to the practical application of research in business, and yielding benefits to both groups.

While SFI is responsible for funding researchers who will produce world class research, the role of EI is to take those research outputs to the proof of concept and commercialisation stage.

Enterprise Ireland provides support in this area through their various funding programmes – Proof-of concept, Commercialisation Fund, Technology Development, Campus Incubation Centres, Technology Transfer Strengthening Initiative etc. 

SFI has set a target of 30 high-potential start-ups to emerge from SFI funded research groups up to 2013, these will contribute to Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland’s targets under the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2013.

6) Is EI support from the NDP allocation for the 2006-2013 Science & Technology strategy allocation?

Yes, Enterprise Ireland’s programmes to increase the amount of technology transferred to industry from research and the amount of innovation and R&D in companies are funded through the Government’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2013 under the Government’s National Development Plan.

7) Is there a full list available of the 100+ companies with staff totals and dates incorporated?

It is not Enterprise Ireland policy to supply lists of client companies. To assist with the query, please find below details of 7 companies that have agreed to be used as examples of the technology transfer system in action;  

  • Slidepath Ltd emerged from DCU in 2003. Currently employs 26 staff.
  • Sonitus Systems Ltd emerged from TCD in 2007. Currently employs 5 people.
  • Glantreo Ltd emerged from UCC in 2004. Currently employs 4 people.
  • ChangingWorlds Ltd emerged from UCD in 1999. Currently employs 99 people.
  • HeyStaks Ltd emerged from UCD in 2008. Currently employs 2 people.
  • Powervation Ltd emerged from UL in 2006.  Currently employs 23 and has recently announced 118 jobs to be created at their facility in Limerick.
  • Catch emerged from WIT in 2005. Currently employs 14 people.

8) Are there university companies that do not get SFI funding or pre-incorporation projects but EI supports?

The companies that emerge from third level institutions may have received funding though any, or a combination of the following research funding agencies;

  • The Higher Education Authority
  • The Health Research Board
  • Teagasc
  • Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology

Enterprise Ireland funds the commercialisation of that research and offers a range of financial and non-financial supports to achieve this goal.

9) The SFI's Powering the Smart Economy 2009-2013 report, has a target for 30 start-ups. 

What is EI's comparable target for 2009 and each other year.

The target for the national technology transfer system is 26 for 2009. This figure is set annually, by Enterprise Ireland and the Technology Transfer Offices who make up the national technology transfer system. The target for 2010 will be decided in consultation with the TTO’s later in 2009

10) Does EI still support PhD projects?

Enterprise Ireland does not offer any specific support for PhD projects. SFI funds PhD studentships as part of overall teams, not as individual studentships.  This can range from a relatively small project where the funding might cover the costs of one to two PhD students (e.g. SFI's Research Frontiers Programme) up to larger projects that cover the costs of several PhD students, post doctoral scientists and other researchers (e.g. SFIs' Centres for Science Engineering and Technology CSETs).

At end-2008 SFI was funding a total of 1156 PhD students across its programmes.

Finfacts:

It's stated clearly clearly that Science Foundation Ireland was established to invest in academic led scientific research.

So EI would at some stage get involved in support of SFI university spinouts e.g marketing?

In the period to say 2008, SFI was responsible for 8 university spinouts.

I'm still confused as to the EI claim of 100 spinouts in the past 3 to 5 years, when by definition, the genesis of such a company is "academic led scientific research."

Why else would it be termed a university spinout?

Is it that the difference is that EI sample companies were begun by graduates as distinct from within a university lab?

EI:

Enterprise Ireland is responsible for managing the commercialisation of ALL publicly-funded research conducted in the 26 third level institutions in Ireland as well as hospitals and Teagasc and the Marine Institute.

SFI is just one agency that funds research – other agencies include the Health Research Board, the Higher Education Authority and Teagasc.

SFI fund individuals and research groups to conduct basic research. The spinouts that SFI are talking about started off as basic research projects in one of their Centres for Science, Engineering and Technology (see list below) or Strategic Research Clusters or by their supported Principal Investigators (PIs).

SFI Centres for Science, Engineering and Technology:
Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (APC), UCC
Biomedical Diagnostics Institute (BDI), DCU
Centre for Next Generation Localisation (CNGL), DCU
Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN), TCD
Centre for Telecommunications Value-Chain Research (CTVR), TCD
CLARITY: The Centre for Sensor Web Technologies, UCD
Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI), NUIG
LERO: The Irish Software Engineering Research Centre, UL
Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI), NUIG

Enterprise Ireland delivers the commercialisation supports for the researchers involved in these groups to bring their research to the marketplace. So the two agencies are working together, albeit at different stages of the commercialisation process, to bring research right through the commercialisation system, to either become a spinout company or as a technology licence agreement.

The EI supports involve assistance in commercialisation funding (to transform basic research results into commercially viable outputs), developing the market proposition, access to market research, links with business partners and investors to build the company structure and advice on managing intellectual property as well as giving the new company access to EI's network of Irish and global offices.

SFI's primary mandate is to invest in academic researchers and research teams who are most likely to generate new knowledge, leading edge technologies and competitive enterprises in the fields of science and engineering underpinning three broad areas: Biotechnology, Information and communications technology Sustainable energy and energy-efficient technologies

Enterprise Ireland works through the entire third level system to commercialise research outputs, this includes researchers that are supported by SFI programmes, as well as others who do not.

Finfacts:

My query relates to the claim made by Conor Lenihan last week in respect of "spinouts" of more than 100 high value companies that have emerged from third level institutions in the last three to five years, as per an EI press release.

You have informed me that there have been 8 spinouts from SFI funded research.

Why is it so difficult to get an answer to a simple question?

Is the definition of spinout the same for EI and SFI?

So the information is that SFI, the main funder has achieved 8 spinouts and separately, EI has achieved more than 100 from third level/university research?

Funding for hospitals etc isn't relevant.

EI:

The Press Release was issued by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment under whose aegis Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and the Industrial Development Agency operate.

The definition of spinouts is the same across all the State agencies that report into the Dept of Enterprise.

The 100 spinouts, the majority of which emerged in the past 3 to 5 years resulted from the collaborative effort from a number of State agencies including Science Foundation Ireland. I note you refer to SFI as 'the main funder', this may be the source of the confusion. SFI is not responsible for commercialising research through the creation of spinout companies.

As stated in the SFI publication Powering the Smart Economy 2009-2013, over the next five years, SFI will continue to contribute to the efforts of Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to generate 30 spinout companies from SFI funded research groups.

Enterprise Ireland is the agency with responsibility for the commercialisation of research, or the 'main funder' as you put it. The 2009 target for spinouts from the national technology transfer system is 26. Enterprise Ireland manages the national technology transfer system.

A portion of the 26 spinouts forecast for 2009 will derive from Science Foundation Ireland funded research groups and other funding agencies will also contribute towards the overall number:

  • The Higher Education Authority

  • The Health Research Board

  • Teagasc

  • Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences

  • Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology

Enterprise Ireland is the agency or "main funder" responsible for the commercialisation of that research and offers a range of financial and non-financial supports to achieve this goal.

This is achieved through a number of support programmes – Commercialisation Fund-Proof of Concept, Technology Development, Campus Incubation Centres, Technology Transfer Strengthening Initiative etc.

Science Foundation Ireland funds research groups, Enterprise Ireland is responsible for the commercialisation of any research outputs that emerge. The 8 spinouts from SFI funded research groups since 2002 are counted in the 100 referred to in the press release.

I hope that this answers your question, please don't hesitate to contact me should you seek further clarification.

Finfacts:

Thanks for your help.

I can understand why this innovation strategy is such a black hole.

Teagasc/the Health Research Board are not universities/third level institutions.

Who is responsible for this information?

My query specifically was on spinouts from university/third level research i.e research that originated in Irish university labs.

EI:

Teagasc and the Health Research Board provide funding for research in agriculture, food and health areas respectively that is done in universities and third level institutions. EI works with the researchers to commercialise their outputs (create spinouts or licences etc).

The Office of Science and Technology at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Education & Science coordinate all of the activity in this area.

Finfacts:

Just one final question, outside of SFI's remit - - biotechnology, information and communications technology and more recently, sustainable energy and energy efficient technology - - what are the main sectors of activity of the EI commercialisation assisted 100 companies?

EI:

Enterprise Ireland focuses on commercialising technology based research in three key areas;

1) ICT (e.g. Software, Telecommunications, Wireless technology, Digitial media, Mobile communications, Broadband technology etc.)
2 Life Sciences & Food (e.g. Biotechnology, Medical Devices, Therapeutics, Diagnostics, Functional Foods, Probiotics, Pharmaceuticals, Biofuels etc.)
3) Industrial Technologies (e.g. Chemistry & Materials, Electronics, Medical Technologies, Novel Processing Technologies, Waste Management, Construction Products etc.)

Hope this helps.

End.

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